Category Archives: Environment

Teaching to the brain…



I have recently participated in several workshops at ASCD Teaching for Excellence 2014 that touched on Brain Based teaching and learning.  While not the focus of the session topics, the strategies that were provided were enough to make me want to learn more about power behind this theory.

While my goal is to spend a significant amount more time on this topic in future blogging and go into depth on specific strategies, especially in gender biased learning and ways to overcome it through brain teaching and learning, my goal today in this post is to begin to collect some of the strategies that speak to the heart of brain based teaching.

Eric Jensen, an expert in the field of Brian based defined the theory in his book, Brain Based Learning: The New Paradigm of Teaching in three words, “engagement, strategies and principles.”  He continues by saying, “Brain-based education is the engagement of strategies based on principles derived from an understanding of the brain.” (Jensen 2008).

To support such change in ones practice below is the beginning of my collection of brain based learning from websites, to publications, to videos that offer an insight into the very heart of the subject.



This is one video from Eric Jenson that explains the foundations of Brian-based learning;

I have also started a channel on Youtube that has a collection of videos on brain-based learning.  You can find the channel here


Below are just a few websites that offer an overview on brain based learning.



Even though I have no formal training in brain based learning, I have found that some of the suggestions and strategies I naturally carry out in my teaching or my suggestions for teachers as “best practice”  and capitalize on the teachable moment!  I do believe that as educators when we follow our intuition, much of the theory that abounds is almost second nature in classroom practice.  But it can be reassuring to know that the experts support the practice through research. 🙂


Pink Slime?!? A teachable moment indeed!!!!

This past week there has been a lot of talk about…


The buzz about this whole Ammonium hydroxide food additive, affectionately know as “pink slime” is clearly pretty much gross.  The fact that McDonald’s is actually healthier then a school lunch in terms of the pink slime scale is down right disturbing. I won’t even lie – I have a secret love of a steamed school cheeseburger and let my daughter eat school lunch everyday (though that is being reconsidered).  And while I am dealing with the idea of putting something in my body that looks like it came out of a Ghostbuster

movie – the reality is – Pink Slime is a teachable moment indeed…how you ask???  Read on – and hear how my school is going to use this wonderful ousted dirty secret of American Schools as a catalyst for teaching!!!

Several years ago the Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock craze hit hard.  For the kids in my school McDonald’s is a food group in and of its self so we decided that one of the best ways to reel the kids in was to get them to think about what they eat.   The unit of study was a persuasive essay unit that revolved around the book Chew On This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food by Charles Wilson and the movie Super Size Me became mentor pieces as the students learned about the food they eat and then began an intensive project in the food that we put into our body and the effects of eating such foods.

Now with the revelation that “Pink Slime” may very well be in the lunch that the students eat – the teachable moments are endless and so cross curricular…

  • LITERACY – A letter writing campaign to the superintendent (or in the case of NYC the chancellor) petitioning against the use of the additive (regardless of whether or not the food product is considered safe)
  • SCIENCE – A science lab into what “pink slime” really
  • SOCIAL STUDIES – A intensive geography project of where “pink slime” is banned and not banned or the ways in which it moves around the globe or the history of “pink slime” or a study of the countries that ban or do not ban pink slime
  • MATHEMATICS – An in-depth graph and analysis of the use of “pink slime”
  • HEALTH –  The effects of “pink slime” on the body
  • ART – A sculpture or painting project depicting “pink slime” and its effect on people, industry, society

Their is so much that can be done with one article and the ways in which you can infuse one topic into all the different content areas really just shows that something as news worthy as pink slime not just a simple news story, it is a teachable moment, and a way to meet the ever growing demand to bridge the real world with the class…therefore I say bring on the SLIME!!!!

DoK is not a verb and it is not Blooms Taxonomy in a circle!!!!!

There has been a lot of buzz about DoK (Depth of Knowledge) levels by Norman Webb.  First and foremost before I go any further on DoK I want to make it very very clear.  

DoK is not a verb!!!

To many people in education are throwing around the term DoK without having a true understanding of what it means. It drives me craze when I hear someone say, “You lesson was not level 3 DoK’ed throughout consistently.”  

The DoK wheel is not just something that you hand to teachers and say – “here go and make sure that you put some DoK in it.”  Rather it is a way of developing a lesson or activity that scaffolds the thinking and in turn the learning to engage students in a higher cognitive level of thinking and application.

So exactly is DoK and how can you implement it in your teaching?

Depth of Knowledge Levels by Norman Webb

As the wheel indicates there are four levels – recall, skill/concept, strategic thinking, extended thinking.  By planning with these four levels in mind, the theory is that you will create highly engaging lessons that will tap into a students highest levels of cognitive thinking.


When considering a project it is often times necessary to tap into prior knowledge and the idea of the students recalling their understanding of a given concept.  This sets the foundations for anticipated learning.  Think of recall in terms of a entry slip, anticipation guide, do now.  Something that gets the kids thinking about what the focus of the lesson or activity will be while ascertaining what they know about a concept if anything. For example you ask the students in a science class to name different kinds of animals.  The students provide you with a list of animals.  You have the foundation that the students know the difference between animals and non-animals.


Once there is a foundation of the knowledge base obtained through recall, then in terms of DoK the next step in the lesson development and delivery is skill/concept.  You are basically beginning to engage the students in a deeper level of thinking.  To not just simply remember something that they learned but to begin to tap into that learning and use it to learn more. The teaching point of the lesson, the place where the students learn something new. In its simplest form think about it like this – you have asked a students to name animals.  You have generated a list, moving up on the scaffolded levels of DoK the next logical question could be, “what is the difference between a dog and a lizard?” The question is now at the heart of what you are trying to get the students to understand that within the Kingdom of Animals there are mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, insects, fish, etc.  These questions begin to encourage the students to make comparisons and dig a little deeper into their thinking.

Strategic Thinking

Once there a knowledge base and an introduction to the skill/concept moving around the circle brings you to level three on the wheel.  To me this is where most teachers try their hardest to get their lesson to be because it is enough of a challenge but does not push to far away from a comfort zone.  This is the point in a lesson or activity that kids begin to really engage in the topic. The kids have already created a baseline of their knowledge through recall, they have be taught a concept through the mini lesson and now they are ready to begin to really engage in the material and begin to do that higher cognitive thinking. For example, the students know animals and they have been given a lesson on the different types of classification, so they are ready for an activity in which they begin to analyze the different between mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians, birds, etc.  They then are engaged in an activity in which they have to determine what the characteristics of different classifications are and where animals belong in those classifications.

Extended Thinking

This last level on DoK is in my opinion the hardest because it requires a level of creativity that often challenges the core of a teachers goal in a class.  It is very easy to get up in front of a group of students and lecture.  It is however not easy to guide the students through an activity that has them prove why something is right or wrong.  However, when a student is able to apply their understanding of a skill or concept, then the student is truly demonstrating mastery of it. So, in this lesson that about animals, the students could be engaged in an activity that has them read about a new species of animal.  After the reading they would have to determine where a new species belongs based on characteristics of the animal and justify their decision based on the their understanding of animal classification and using specific similarities of other animals in that classification.

What really got me when I started staring at DoK how it was different from Blooms Taxonomy.  And the reality is that while there is a lot of overlap the underlying principles differ slighting in the thinking.  DoK sees learning as needing all the levels while often times with Blooms there is a belief that you can pick a level and just teach at that. Now that DoK has become so common in my school, I now find myself pushing to use it more as a foundation for planning.  However, the more I really thought about it, the more I realized that I was doing this anyway without putting a specific title on it.  

But if your still a little nervous about the whole DoK thing – then try to simply just think about the ways in which you ask a question or the kind of question you are asking.  Instead of falling back on the rote recall – try to compare or contrast.  It opens the door to far more interesting and engaging students and conversations, especially with the push for Common Core Standards and a level of learning that demands students be engaged in higher cognitive levels of thinking.